Ben Falk's Advice for Sfumato Farm!

Before we invested more in our orchard with either time or money, we wanted a professional opinion on our permaculture design and general plan for the property so we booked Ben Falk for a consult!

John had read his book and I was introduced to him and his beautiful farm in Vermont via the documentary Inhabit which we highly recommend.

For me, Inhabit was the film that made it click that permaculture is how God intended nature to be...beautiful interrelated, symbiotic relationships between plants and animals with humans stewarding it all.

So we talked to Ben. Here are our major takeaways:

Water is LIFE. Which means even more earthworks are in store for us before we transplant our precious 100 grafted apple trees to the orchard. Our first two swales were dug with a skid loader but Ben told us we really need an excavator to get the right shape in the soil and to avoid compacting the earth by just shoving it around.

Swales on contour (along topographical lines) is not always best. Sometimes it's good to move the water more intentionally. We plan to capture more water runoff from the road on the north end and our driveway to water the orchard.

Here's an aerial view of our property...

And here's a screenshot of Ben sketching out ideas for swales, ponds, etc....

We also asked him if he thought we needed to terrace our vegetable garden or if we should just focus on soil development. Apparently anything over a 5% grade is pretty useless for vegetables. Our garden has a 15% grade...Whomp Whomp. We feel pretty sheepish but at least have a reason for our garden's lackluster performance the last few years. Two retaining walls are thus in our near future.

To develop the soil, we also need to do more intentional grazing with the animals. Basically we need to move them more often. We knew this but there's only so many hours in the day. Despite their reputation, goats are actually pretty selective eaters so if you give them free range they will leave a lot of plant species that we would actually prefer them to clear.

He also told us that we didn't need to feel like we had to "touch" every part of our 14.5 acres.

(This is when I turned to John with a loving 'I told you so' smirk.)

But John isn't alone in his desire to cultivate every inch of taxable property to feel like he's getting his money worth, etc. A lot of homesteaders apparently want to "make the most of their land."

I've always said that if this is our forever home we have plenty of time to come up with new projects to maximize our land usage, but 14 acres is a lot of land to cover!

Ben strongly encouraged us to make the most use of our zone 1 - that's the part of the property around the house and driveway that we visit daily. I told him I wanted to preserve space for the kids to have a "backyard" near the house while they are young, but we should still have plenty of space that we could use for edible landscapes, etc.

His final suggestion was to focus on just a few things and to do them well. He said that lots of permaculturists and homesteaders - himself included - like to be generalists but those who are really successful focus on just a few things.

In my opinion, we should be focusing on 1) producing a majority of the vegetables our family consumes, 2) our orchard, and 3) our chickens. That's still pretty broad.

It's definitely something to think about - what are the top three things we want to do really well?

We are excited (and a little daunted) to implement everything we discussed!